Thursday, January 24, 2019

Shakespeare and Depression

I cannot say for certain if William Shakespeare ever suffered
from depression, but I am certain he understood it and he
instilled some of his characters with the disease.

In the opening scene from The Merchant of Venice, the merchant
Antonio confides to some friends:
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.

Most of us who suffer from depression do not always know
why we do or where it comes. What we do know is that it
wearies us; we feel tired from it and it can also be tiresome
to the ones closest to us.

That I have much ado to know
myself is true to those who know that the way we act and
feel sometimes is not our true selves.

Antonio’s friends try to diagnose his problem, but the merchant
denies he is sad because of business or love.

Salarino simply sums up Antonio’s problem:
Then let us say you are sad,
Because you are not merry

In Scene II Portia reflects Antonio’s mood.
By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of
this great world.

Nerissa tells Portia she has no right to be sad since her
good fortune outweighs any misery. I am sure this is the
advice some people give their friends suffering from
depression. But for those suffering from depression it is
not simply a matter of counting our blessings when all
we can do is focus on our problems.

In Hamlet, the melancholy Dane confides in his two school friends:
I have of late--but
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises;

Depression is of course the opposite of mirth or happiness,
and when we are depressed we are prone not to take care
of ourselves because we simply do not care about our wellbeing.

Hamlet sees things in a negative light.
... this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.

This negative attitude naturally leads Hamlet to
contemplate suicide.
To be, or not to be…

In Macbeth the new king’s depression is brought on
by his sinful acts. Macbeth echoes the sentiments
the depressed often feel:
...I am sick at heart...
...I have lived long enough…

At one point Macbeth asks a doctor if he cannot
cure this disease.
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
The doctor replies:
Therein the patient
Must minister to himself.

This is only partially correct. The oness for our depression is
mainly on us. The Catch 22 is that the depressed person may
not have the wherewithal to minister themselves.
When Macbeth says:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
-- it signifies that the depressed mind sees life as meaningless
or as a cruel joke.

In Act 3, scene 4, Macbeth reflects on the uselessness
of trying to recover from his state:
… I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er:

Many often feel that is just as easy (or difficult) to stay in our
depression than to try to get out of it, and so some do not try.

World Mental Health Day is October 10. Here is a link for
World Health Organization.

In Canada Mental Health Awareness Week is October 6-12

In Canada, Mental Health Week is May 6-12. Here is the link
to the Canadian Mental Health Assoication.

In the United States, Mental Health Month has been held in
May since 1949. This is the link for Mental Health America

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Raymond Chandler & A Piece of Work

While writing my latest novel, A Piece of Work, one of the writers from who I sought inspiration was Raymond Chandler. For me Chandler is one of the great  detective/fiction authors of the hard boiled and noir style. Chandler is famous for his detective Philip Marlowe who appeared in seven novels.

I love Marlowe's commentaries on people and things, especially the ones that were tinged with derision.

“She’s a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud and if she has washed her hair since Coolidge’s second term, I’ll eat my spare tire, rim and all.” 

“There was a sad fellow over on a bar stool talking to the bartender, who was polishing a glass and listening with that plastic smile people wear when they are trying not to scream.” 

“From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.” 

These somewhat cynical comments suited my drug-addicted protagonist Lee Linville. Chandler inspired me to write lines like:

"The dark-haired woman who sat behind the dirty glass was young, but looked all washed out. Her makeup, that should have enhanced her looks, only made her look grotesque. Her face was pale and looked like a slice of stale bread."

"On his head sat a grey Porkpie hat with a pale blue band. From the corner of his mouth hung a smouldering Robert Burns cigar. He looked like a respectable bum.

"She looked at Lee with tired eyes that said her life had not turned out the way she'd hoped. Hell, who's life ever does?"

In The Simple Art of Murder, Chandler wrote of his detective:  "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this type of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. . . .  He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world."

Where as Chandler's Marlowe is the archetype detective; tough, brave and honest. Marlowe is brutally honest about American society in the 1940s and 50s. 

“Real cities have something else, some individual bony structure under the muck. Los Angeles has Hollywood -- and hates it. It ought to consider itself damn lucky. Without Hollywood it would be a mail order city"

“Americans will eat anything if it is toasted and held together with a couple of toothpicks and has lettuce sticking out of the sides, preferably a little wilted.” 

My anti-hero Lee Linville is not tough or brave or even that honest. Lee is deep into drugs and depression due to his past. In 1959 Lee is living in New York City and is contemptuous of modern society. 

"Linville watched Fullerton walk away and out of the diner. The lawyer joined the teaming masses on the street and blended into them, becoming one with them. One big mass like some giant organism that pulsated and moved along, picking some up and dropping some off, like any living thing that took in food and shitted it out. The thought of it made Lee sick."

"Traffic on the street was heavier now. Street lights told people when to stop and when to move. Pedestrians choked the street and traffic choked the pedestrians. Soon it would be unbearable: the crowds, the noise, the deadpan expressions, the soulless eyes that took in nothing and gave nothing back. Lee knew that look. It was the look of a junkie."

 Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Piece of Work on Kindle!

A Piece of Work by [Gaspar, Stephen]My latest detective novel, A Piece of Work, is a 1950s noir-style story that has just been released on Kindle. 

By 1959 Lee Linville is a junkie living on the streets of New York. He has turned away from the life as an investigator for his lawyer friend, William Fullerton, and has embraced the counterculture way of life. Fullerton comes to Lee with a job only he could do. Fullerton wants Lee to find a sixteen-year-old runaway from an affluent family who has also turned to drugs and is lost in the concrete jungle of New York.

Lee must fight against his addiction and his personal demons as his search takes him to the subways of Manhattan, the blues clubs of Harlem, the beatnik scene in Greenwich Village, and the rundown tenements of the Lower East Side. Along the way Lee encounters cops, drug dealers, pimps and a colorful assortment of fellow addicts. 
If this is a simple runaway case, why is someone trying to kill Lee before he can find the missing girl? 
As well as being a fast-paced detective story, A Piece of Work is a thought-provoking, sometimes moody look at life in 1950s America where the marginalized struggle with life on a daily basis.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Allen Ginsberg in A Piece of Work

My new mystery/detective novel, A Piece of Work, takes place in 1959 New York City. There a many iconic settings in the novel, one being the San Remo Cafe at the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker Street. The San Remo Cafe opened in 1925 and was a regular hangout writers, artists
and musicians.

My protagonist, Lee Linville, goes to the San Remo Cafe one night with some friends. That night the counterculture poet, Allen Ginsberg, is also present. Here is an excerpt from the chapter entitled, The Beat Generation.

THE SAN REMO Cafe sat on the corner of Macdougal and Bleeker Street. A pillar sign stood out front and a low step from the sidewalk brought Linville and his party inside. The San Remo was more of a bar than a coffee shop. It had white tile with black star-like patterns on the floor. Despite its tall pressed-tin ceiling, the place was filled with smoke, the smell of beer and alcohol and an unending buzz of chatter. It was bigger than the last place, but filled with people. The clientele of the San Remo were classier than the coffee house as well. There were less black berets and striped sweaters here, and more jackets, ties and evening dresses. The place was lit by a number of globes that hung from the ceiling on chains.
    Aside from numerous tables and chairs, there were wooden-bench booths along the wall, but practically all the seats were taken.
    “What say we imbibe something fermented at the bar,” the Prof said, taking the pipe from his mouth. Lee figured he still had enough money for a few drinks.
    Dark wooden paneling lined the walls. A large mirror trimmed with woodwork was set behind the long bar. They maneuvered their way toward it. Lee ordered them all drinks from an old bartender who looked at Linville with veiled contempt. The bartender put four drinks on the bar and glared at Lee. Lee paid for the drinks with loose change. There was no tip. The bartender grunted his disapproval. Everyone picked up their drinks. Lee turned to see a man next to him was observing him closely.
    “Don’t let old Nino bother you,” said a well-dressed man to him. He had watched the exchange between Lee and the bartender. “Nino’s worked here twenty-five years ago when it was owned by the Santini family. Nino misses the days when this place was full of mobsters and their molls. They were big spenders. Now he has to put up with writers, poets and painters, who are cheap and broke.”
    The man introduced himself as George. He was a handsome, forty-five-year-old man with good manners and a classy fashion sense. George wore a pinstripe tan jacket, a butterscotch checkered vest, and dark silk tie. He had a martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
    “And what is your name?” George asked, with smiling dark eyes.
    George put his cigarette in his mouth and reached into his jacket. He took out a gold cigarette case, the type with a lighter built into it. George opened the case. “Lee, would you care for a cigarette?”
    Lee nodded. He took the cigarette George offered and the older man lit it with the lighter.
    “Have I seen you here before, Lee?” George asked.
    “I’ve never been here before.”
    There was a loud ruckus from a table across the room.
    “Well, you are in for a treat, Lee,” George said, and taking him by the arm he escorted him closer to the loud table.
    An empty chair was set on the floor and with the encouragement of his companions, a man climbed up and stood on a chair. He was in his early thirties and wore heavy horn rimmed glass. He was slim with thick dark hair that was starting to thin on top. He had dark soulful eyes, a heavy dark beard and mustache  and a full lipped mouth. He wore a tweed coat and a dark sweater over an open neck shirt. Someone handed him a book.
    “That is Allen Ginsberg,” George said. “Do you know Allen Ginsberg? He is a fantastic poet. I believe he is going to recite one of his poems.”
    The group surrounding Ginsberg cheered and shouted both encouragement and insults. They were all pretty drunk, but the poet did not slur his words, nor was he overly dramatic, but rather recited his work quickly and somewhat mechanical.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…

    The poem took about twenty minutes for Ginsberg to read. Each time there was a mention of drugs or sex the crowd came to life with a communal ‘Whoaaaaaaaaa!’

I’m with you in Rockland
  in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tears to the door of my cottage in the Western night

    The end was greeted with a rousing cheer and applause. Standing on the chair, Ginsberg bowed at the waist and then stepped off the chair and took his seat.    
    When the loud clamor died down and everyone returned to what they were doing before the poetry reading, Lee looked around for his companions. Lena and The Prof were talking with a group in the far corner, and Colleen had joined up with some young people more her age.
    “What did you think of Ginsberg’s poem?” George asked Lee.
    “What is it called?”
    Lee nodded. It certainly was that, he thought, like a madman howling at the moon.
    “That poem will come to identify this generation,” George said. “You certainly must relate to it, no? Does it not speak to your very soul? Does it not touch something deep in here” he said, and placed his hand on Lee’s chest.
    “It certainly howls at me, I guess.”
    “Yes, yes,” George said, enthusiastically. “In the rawness of the language it howls at the beast within you; that beast trying to get out. We are all savage beasts under the skin.” George raised his brows and cocked his head. “Would you like to meet him?”
    “Who? Ginsberg?”
    “You must meet him, you simply must,” George said, and taking Lee by the arm he made his way through the throng of people. 

All of Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Piece of Work & Miles Davis

My new detective novel A Piece of Work takes place in 1959, and it features a scene in a Harlem blues club. Making a cameo role is the incomparable jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. On August 17, 1959, Miles Davis had released the studio album Kind of Blue. Many critics regard that album as the greatest jazz album of all time.

Here in this excerpt from A Piece of Work we find the protagonist, Lee Linville and his friend Sid in a basement blues club where they meets the mysterious and enticing Lena Lehane. 

    “Do you dig jazz?” she asked.
    “Oh yeah, I dig it,” Sid said.
And you,” she said to Linville. “Do you like jazz music?”
  “Oh yeah, I dig it too,” Lee lied.
    “You see those cats on the main kick?” she asked.
    Sid and Lee turned to the band onstage.
  “You see that cat with the horn?” Lena said.
   They looked at the trumpet player.
    “That’s Miles Davis.”
    Linville wanted to ask, who’s Miles Davis? but he did not.
    “That’s Miles Davis?” Sid exclaimed.
    “That’s the man,” Lena said. She took a cigarette out of her purse and held it out. “Either one of you fine gentlemen have a light for a lady?”
    Both of them scrambled through their pockets for a light.
    Sid came out with a matchbook. He broke one off, struck it and lit her cigarette.  My god, thought Lee, she even smoked sexy.
    “Would either of you fine gentlemen care to buy a lady a drink?” she asked.
    Lee reached into his pocket, but he knew there was no money there.

    “We certainly would,” Sid said. “But unfortunately we’re down to our last ruff.”
    Lena looked indignant. “I thought all you white boys
had money. I should have known you were cut-rate just by looking at you.”
    “You like white boys with money?” Linville asked.
    “What else are they good for?” Lena said.
    “You know a white skin beater used to hang out here? Name of Rafferty. Doug Rafferty.”
    “Yeah, I know him.”
    “You do!” Lee wanted to ask her more, but Lena held up a hand as she looked towards the stage. She butted her cigarette in an ashtray without even looking at it.
    Miles Davis stood at the microphone and addressed the audience. Davis was a handsome man in his early thirties, with his hair cut short and serious demeanor. His eyes were solemn and when he spoke his voice was soft and came out like a hoarse whisper.
    “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Just a couple of months ago we lost a giant talent. A singer and songwriter that can never be replaced. I am talking about the late, great Billie Holiday.”
    At the mention of Billie Holiday the patrons applauded and Sid gripped Lee’s arm.
    “I didn’t know Billie all that well,” Davis continued. “We didn’t hang out or nothing like that. I know she loved my son, Gregory. I like to remember Billie before… when she was younger. She was a good looking woman. Nobody could sing like Billie. Everybody loved Billie. I would like to call a woman up on the stage. She’s a fine dinner and she’s going to sing some of Billie’s songs. Please pound your mitts for Miss Lena Lehane.”
    Lena stood up from the table to the applause of the audience. She stepped up on stage and in front of the microphone.
    “For my first number I would like to sing Long Gone Blues,” Lena said, and had to pause at the outburst of applause, whistles and cheers. “Billie wrote Long Gone Blues and if you ever heard her sing it, you could just tell she sang every word like she meant it.”

I’ve been your slave
Ever since I’ve been your babe
But before I see your door
I’ll see you in your grave

I’m a good gal
But my love is all wrong
I’m a good gal
But my love has gone

    The song was a sultry number reminiscent of the late 1930s.
    “She’s good,” Sid leaned over and said in Lee’s ear. “But not as good as Billie was.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Piece of Work - 1959 Cadillac

My new book, A Piece of Work is a noirish detective story that takes place in New York City in 1959. The protagonist Lee Linville is one-time investigator turned drug addict. Lee is asked by his former boss, lawyer William Fullerton, to find the runaway daughter of one of Fullerton's rich client.

One of features in the book is William Fullerton's 1959 Cadillac. Here is a short excerpt. 

    His attention was caught by a car horn. He turned to see Bill Fullerton pulling up in his Cadillac. He had never seen Bill’s new car. It was a teal colored 2-door convertible, with whitewall tires and huge tailfins on the back making it resemble a rocket ship more than an automobile. The car had a grill in back as well as in front, and on the fins were dual bullet tail lights. The Caddy was long and low and sleek. It was a thing of beauty.
    Lee leaned over and looked through the passenger window. Bill sat behind the steering wheel. The passenger window lowered. Fullerton gave Linville a brief glance, looked straight ahead and waved Lee to get in. Lee opened the door and got in. The car had power brakes, power steering, automatic transmission, back-up lamps and two-speed wipers. The interior of the vehicle was the same teal as the exterior. It had power windows, a two-way power seat and an armrest in the middle of the front seat. It was plush. Lee had never sat in a car this luxurious. It was nicer than a lot of apartments in New York.  

    “Nice car,” Lee said.
   For the remainder of the drive neither men said barely a word. The Caddy offered a smooth ride.


Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon!